Unemployment: Algarve’s hotel sector workers fear for their future

The crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has cast a dark shadow over the future of many of the Algarve’s hotel industry workers who have lost their jobs or have seen cuts to their wages after being placed under the government’s ‘lay-off’ scheme.

Thousands of people were not even hired as seasonal workers, as they usually would, or were let go after their training period, just as hotels were beginning to reopen for the Easter holidays (when the pandemic broke out).

“The feeling of despair is overwhelming, and it is getting worse due to the uncertainty. I have no idea whether I will get a job,” Sandra Silva, 34, told Lusa news agency outside Portimão’s employment and professional training centre (IEFP).

A mother of two, Sandra only worked for three months (August, September and October) this year.

“I have been a seasonal worker for seven years, with contracts that range from six to eight months. This year, I only signed a three-month contract. I don’t know what the future has in store for me and my children,” she said.

Unlike previous years, the majority of people who queue at the employment centre are seeking jobs instead of unemployment benefits.

Such is the case of 46-year-old Fernando Carlos, who has been laid off after 15 years working at a hotel restaurant in the Western Algarve. Now he is looking for a job where he can earn at least what he was earning before the pandemic.

“I have a family to support and the money I am earning now is insufficient to cover all expenses,” he told Lusa.

The crisis has also taken its toll on smaller businesses. Dora, a 31-year-old Ukrainian woman also interviewed outside the employment centre, lost her job at a local pastry shop after the owner decided to close the business because he had “no clients”. Four other people who worked there also lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, two of the Algarve’s major hotel groups have admitted that their hotels are running with “bare minimum” staff.

Pedro Lopes from Grupo Pestana admitted that the group did not hire any employees for the summer season, when it would usually recruit around 300 seasonal workers.

“This year we relied on our staff from other parts of the country. As we didn’t hire anyone for the summer, we are also not dismissing anyone,” he said.

The group – which runs eight hotels, three ‘pousadas’ and five golf courses in the Algarve –will only keep one hotel and the pousadas open, adding that there are no predictions for when the other units will reopen.

Even those that are remaining open could close depending on how the pandemic evolves, Lopes said.

On the other hand, Grupo Tivoli will keep three of its six hotels in the Algarve open this winter, although whether they will remain open will also depend on the pandemic.

Said the group’s regional director Jorge Beldade, no workers will be dismissed but some may be put under the government’s layoff regime.

In related news, Lusa adds that the number of people requesting financial aid from their local councils is on the rise.

In Portimão, the council is now helping more and more families pay their rent, water bills and medication. It has also delivered 745 food hampers to local families in need.

[email protected]